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Lankan rebels end water seige, fighting over

Written by: Staff

Trincomalee, Aug 9: Water flowed to thousands of farmers in east Sri Lanka for the first time in three weeks today after Tamil Tiger rebels lifted a blockade, but the military said it was too early to say if the worst fighting since a 2002 truce was near an end.

The army fired rockets towards Tamil Tiger positions before dawn, 15 days after jets first dropped bombs on rebel areas in a bid to wrest control a disputed sluice. The rebels said late yesterday they had stopped retaliating against attacks from the military.

''Water is flowing. The water level has risen 6 feet high. That indicates there won't be a problem of water for those villagers and farmers,'' said Maj. Upali Rajapakse, senior coordinator at the media centre for national security.

''The humanitarian operation conducted by the security forces has achieved success,'' he said, adding it was too early to say if the military campaign was over.

The government says the Tigers must still vacate the area. The Tigers had vowed to reopen the waterway on Sunday, but the government replied with renewed artillery fire.

Nordic truce monitors said they hoped the violence, which prompted the first ground offensives since the truce, would now stop.

''We hope this is the beginning of the end of the violence,'' Thorfinnur Omarsson, spokesman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission which oversees the island's truce, said late yesterday. ''There is nothing to fight over now.''

Aid workers estimate between 20,000-30,000 people have been displaced by the violence. The Tigers say tens of thousands more have been displaced in areas they control, which aid workers say sounds too high. There are no reliable death toll figures, as many areas in the conflict zone are still deemed too dangerous to enter because of landmines and booby traps, but dozens are confirmed dead and aid workers fear the number could be far higher.

Violence flared in the capital yesterday, when suspected Tiger rebels attacked a minority Tamil politician vocally opposed to them with a car bomb in Colombo. He survived, but his bodyguard and a three-year-old boy were killed.

Aid workers and the international community are also clamouring for answers after 17 local staff from international aid group Action Contre La Faim were found shot dead execution-style in their office in the eastern town of Mutur, the site of days of fierce fighting.

Some relatives of the dead, most of them Tamils, are blaming troops for the killings. The Tigers and the military blame each other. Some diplomats see troop involvement.

It was the highest toll of aid workers in a single incident since the 2003 bombing of the United Nation's Baghdad headquarters, which killed at least 24.

Aid workers and diplomats say the reason for the murders was unclear, but troops had been under days of strain in heavy fighting.

Hardliners have often accused aid agencies of favouring the ethnic Tamil minority and of backing the rebels.

More than 800 people had been killed this year even before the recent fighting, in which the military says it has killed more than 150 rebels.

The Tigers demand a separate homeland for Tamils in the north and east and have warned further attacks by the military could trigger a return to a two-decade civil war that has already killed more than 65,000 people.


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